Are EVs easy? Follow Robin Mellon from Sydney to Melbourne and back as he road-tests and prices the electric vehicle revolution.

Having been immersed in sustainability for a few decades, I’ve now got a dirty little secret. Well, maybe not so dirty. After being carless for years, relying on public transport and car-share networks, I recently bought an electric vehicle (EV) and I’m loving it for several reasons:

  • Inexpensive – a full charge costs less than AU$4 and will cover about 280 kilometres
  • Low-emissions – using my local EV charging network means using renewable energy
  • Maintainable – quite literally, less moving parts to go wrong makes it cheaper to maintain
  • Zippy – not a technical word, but there’s immediate power and no gears to work through
  • Silent – quieter excursions, calmer trips, less acoustic stress while driving
  • Smug – you wouldn’t believe how smug, even with the cheapest EV on the market.

And after a month of putting the car through its paces locally, I’m going to drive from Sydney to Melbourne inland (around 900 km) to MC the UN Global Compact Network Australia event Making Global Goals Local Business, and then back along the Victorian and NSW coast (around 1300 km including meetings with local councils).

Over those 2200 km I want to discover and share with you:

  • How easy it is to charge up along the way (are the charge points working, are there queues, are the systems and connections simple?)
  • How much it costs to charge (how much to drive 100 km, how much for the whole trip)
  • How long it takes to charge in different places (some are ultra-fast, some overnight)
  • How ‘range anxiety’ (the fear that you don’t have enough power to reach your destination) really plays out driving interstate, or across rural and regional areas.
Robin Mellon: I’m going to drive from Sydney to Melbourne inland (around 900 km) to MC the UN Global Compact Network Australia event Making Global Goals Local Business, and then back along the Victorian and NSW coast (around 1300 km including meetings with local councils).Image by Photoholgic

My next posts in The Fifth Estate will outline how easy the inland Sydney-to-Melbourne trip was (and how much it cost, to the cent), then detail the coastal Melbourne-to-Sydney trip (complete with a few tips for motels with charging points).

It will be interesting to see how Australia’s EV market evolves in the coming years. In 2020, the sale of battery electric cars in Norway overtook those powered by petrol, diesel and hybrid engines, representing 54.3 per cent of all new cars sold. Whereas in 2020 EVs accounted for just 0.7 per cent of total Australian car sales.

Much of the slow uptake can be put down to the inhospitable political climate for EVs, as well as the need for more charging infrastructure and the corresponding “range anxiety” when distances across Australia are considered.

Electric Vehicles have been in the news a lot recently, with governments of every flavour talking about incentivising them, taxing them, encouraging them or dismissing them (they’ll “end the weekend”, after all).

Yes, all car owners should contribute to roads and infrastructure however their vehicle is powered. But continuing to subsidise the fossil fuel sector ($10.3 billion a year last year, according to The Australia Institute) whilst penalising low-emissions or zero-emissions vehicles seems skewed, if not nonsensical. Not least because cars represent Australia’s third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions at over 18 per cent of total emissions. It’s time for a change.

However, it’s encouraging to see where progress is being made. Recent projects such as Plasgain’s carbon-neutral plastic recycling process, with electric vehicle charging facilities, reflect the change in business mindsets.

As you’ll have read recently in The Fifth Estate, there are those who shriek from the rooftops that “less mobility is the climate solution for transport”, as if we can change the design of our cities, destinations and transit patterns overnight.

Award-winning food and drink destinations such as Mountain Ridge Wines, near Berry in NSW, have installed car charging points (both Tesla and Universal Type 2 chargers) with photovoltaic panels to supply renewable energy to their customers (with upgraded electrical infrastructure to handle the increased loads charging requires).

And, in early 2020, Waverley, Woollahra and Randwick Councils in Sydney’s eastern suburbs started installing public on-street electric vehicle charging stations in key destination hotspots from Coogee to Double Bay; the first on-street public charging stations of this type in Sydney, and the first local government-backed on-street NSW charging infrastructure.

As you’ll have read recently in The Fifth Estate, there are those who shriek from the rooftops that “less mobility is the climate solution for transport”, as if we can change the design of our cities, destinations and transit patterns overnight.

But it’s not one OR the other – better urban design OR better vehicles – it’s both. While Australia is home to a growing and increasingly urban population, improved urban design, increased co-location and massive investment in public transport by themselves will be insufficient to address emissions, crowding and congestion in our cities.

A deliberate shift towards electric vehicles represents another meaningful step towards a clean transport future, as well as a more mindful way of making those trips that we still need to make by car.

So, let’s get real and consider the numbers, the range and the cost. Join me, over the next few updates, as I tell you a bit about what this electric vehicle revolution is really like, as well as how easy, how fast and how much it is to charge up on the way. Feel free to ask questions, express doubts, and make comments.

Robin Mellon is chief executive officer of Better Sydney, project manager for the Property Council of Australia’s Modern Slavery Working Group and Supplier Platform, and NSW program adviser for Better Building Finance. And now an EV nerd.

10 replies on “On the EV road with Robin Mellon”

  1. Hi Robin
    Great to hear about your trip. We were in Norway in January/February 2019 and were very impressed with the uptake in electric cars, all reg plates preceded by E. Lots of incentives there – pity we don’t follow suit.
    We regularly drive Sydney/Melbourne return and are pleased to notice lots of charging stations along the way. Last time we noticed Gundagai in particular had charging stations in the Main Street and Flash Jacks where we stayed, had two in the parking area.
    Great places to stay along the way – Sir George at Jugiong, Nimbo Fork Lodge between Gundagai and Tumut, Mercure at Albury. On the coast road Seahorse Inn at Boydtown was nice and the Laurels at Kangaroo Valley is outstanding. Not sure about charging stations everywhere but Jugiong and Holbrook (ten mile cafe) have them.
    Would love an EV but a bit too pricey at present. Enjoy your trip.

    1. Great to see increasing numbers of EV charging points, Robyn, and that we’re looking at successful markets in other countries and copying those. Thanks for the tips – have add them to my list!

  2. Welcome to the EV world Robin! I am a recently retired urban designer from Melbourne and an EV owner for 4 years. My wife and I did the Melb/ Sydney trip returning along the coast before Easter. I agree with your support of EVs but Australia’s real problem is car based city design and changing that culture is the critical one for sustainability cities need to change fast! We shouldn’t need cars for most trips and public transport needs to do better. We should cease building freeways and all new development should dense enough and attractive for walking and cycling with driving discouraged as in many European and Asian cities.

    1. Definitely agree with that summary, Bruce – EVs are one, tiny part of the solution but better urban design, walkable cities, co-location and behavioural change are much, much bigger (and much, much harder!). EVs can help during the transition, for those journeys we still need to make by car, but are certainly not the answer themselves.

  3. A great article, but there’s more.
    We have articles about EV’s and articles about renewable energy but noone seems to be considering how the inevitable EV transition will affect the grid. Seems to me that when our 20million cars have transitioned to EV’s each with a 60kWh battery, that adds up to a battery capacity of 1200gWh – that is a staggering amount of storage – 3.5 Snowy2.0’s, 2.3 days of storage of our entire energy consumption.
    Prof Blakers has estimated that we need 450GWh of storage to transition fully to renewables. EV batteries will provide 3 times this storage AND the storage is distributed around the grid – this storage will reduce not increase demand on the grid.
    Folk have told me that this will never work because the cars will not be grid connected when the cars are driving. OK so I looked it up, our cars are only actually driving for 3% of the time – so for 97% of the time they could be grid connected. They also say that noone would be willing to donate their battery capacity to the grid in this way. But if Prof Blakers is right the maximum battery capacity needed for the grid, under the most exceptional worst case conditions is only a third of the total EV battery capacity. My car’s petrol tank (sorry can’t afford to go EV yet) is only 1/4 full but I lose no sleep over it, so I certainly wouldn’t lose sleep over a battery being 2/3rds full on the worst day of the year for the grid, especially if our electricity tarrifs are designed to make this a no-brainer.
    So it seems inevitable to me that the future is EV’s, certainly not pathetically inefficient hydrogen (18% compared to over 90% for EV’s). If so, then accelerating the uptake of EV’s is MASSIVELY strategic for accelerating the transition fully to renewable energy. Instead of putting masses of public money into gas-led-recovery, hydrogen, Snowy2.0 and grid upgrades, carbon capture and storage, home batteries, community batteries, BIG batteries etc. they should be putting it into promoting EV’s, because 1200GWh of storage on the grid WILL make all of these other investments uncompetitive and redundant. All of that public money wasted in Kodak technologies instead of assuring our competitive future in renewable energy and EV’s.

    1. Some interesting points there, Nigel, about EVs and the grid – these are complex, interconnected problems to solve and we need collaboration rather than stone-throwing. Good to see some of those figures…

  4. Enjoy.
    We have now done several road trips in our EV. We spent three months away from home last year, travelling from Ballarat Victoria to Port Douglas and the Daintree, Far North Queensland and back. That trip cost less than $50.00 in charging but we did utilise charging credit we received with our EV purchase.
    We recently spent $5.00 on charging visiting the Barossa, Adelaide and Kangaroo Island from Ballarat.

    1. Wow, Sandra – those are amazing figures – thanks for the updates and would love to know more – any ‘worrying’ gaps or did you find coverage of EV charging points was good?

    1. So Corey, if I drive down through Victoria using renewable energy meaning it’s a solar-powered car, when I’m across the Bass Strait in Tasmania does it become a hydro-powered (or water-powered) car? Hope to be able to see you again soon *in-person*!

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